ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Kurdistan’s geographic placement and aspirations to be a democratic state are both assets in its quest for support for independence, but also a cause for caution in a region where global powers are struggling for dominance, argued experts on a recent Rudaw Research Centre panel.
The United States may not be explicitly supporting an independent Kurdistan and the September 25 referendum, but the signs of a close relationship are there, stated retired US Brig. Gen. Ernie Audino in a panel moderated by Rudaw’s Ranj Sangawi.
Kurds are a well-known moderate Sunni voice and as such will be crucial to combatting not only ISIS but jihadi ideology in general, Audino argued. The black flag of ISIS stopped at Kurdish soil, he pointed out, and the world, including US President Donald Trump, knows this.
If Kurdistan emerges as an independent, democratic state, it will double the number of friendly democracies in the Middle East, the American stated. And as Iranian influence grows in the Middle East, in Kurdistan “is where counter-balance to Iranian power must begin.”
There are indications that the United States is favourable towards an independent Kurdistan. One example Audino provided is the planned construction of a new consulate in Erbil, an extremely large project that is “really designed to be an embassy.”
“I do not think the United States will stand in the way of independence,” Audino concluded.
This close relationship between Kurdistan and the United States worries Moscow, however. Russia has growing influence in the Middle East and “Kurds have to be very careful and very skilled in diplomacy first of all, not to get in between big powers,” argued Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst.
The result of the referendum is a foregone conclusion. Kurds should, therefore, be planning for what happens next – modernizing their nation and forces and maneuvering themselves out of the major power struggles in the Middle East if they want to survive, Felgenhauer stated.
Audino issued reassurances that the US will protect their Kurdish friends. If conflict erupted between the Peshmerga and the Hashd al-Shaabi, as some fear, Audino is confident the US would assist the Kurds.
“The Peshmerga are our allies and I cannot imagine that the United States would allow our great ally in this fight to defend humanity to be attacked and would not come to their aid. I just can’t imagine that.”
Audino knows the Peshmerga well, having embedded with the Kurdish force as a combat adviser.